THE government was forced into a humiliating U-turn yesterday, ditching plans to privatise the agency that provides temporary staff to hospitals.
Ministers wanted to flog off a majority stake in NHS Professionals, which holds a bank of more than 100,000 doctors, nurses, midwives and other staff to supply to hospitals when needed, despite widespread opposition in Parliament and among medical professionals.
The service, established by the Labour government in 2001, is wholly owned by the Department of Health and saves the NHS an estimated £70 million a year by cutting out profit-driven private staffing agencies.
Health Minister Philip Dunne said in a written Commons statement that privatisation was being abandoned “after offers to buy a majority stake in the company undervalued its growing potential.”
Shadow health minister Justin Madders said: “This is a major U-turn on a misguided policy from a government with no solution to the workforce crisis in the NHS.
“Ministers tried to push through a sale behind closed doors but have been forced to abandon their plans in the face of wide opposition from NHS staff and patients.
“This is an effective and successful public body which saves the taxpayer around £70m a year on the government’s own estimates, by ensuring hospitals don’t have to rely on expensive private staffing agencies.
“Ministers have major questions to answer about why they tried to sell off this successful public body and how much money has been wasted in this process which could have been spent on patient care instead.”
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “The government has at last seen sense. NHS Professionals is an organisation that saves the health service money and ensures there are enough staff on wards.
“But despite many warnings, ministers have once again gone through a pointless exercise, wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash. Instead of filling the pockets of management consultants, this money could have been better spent improving services for patients.”
She said privatisation would have been bad for patients and staff.